Disgustingly, this is the darkest hour of Kashmir; despair has never been as overwhelming as it’s being experienced now. It seems that along with Afzal Guru, the cantonment mindset has buried all the hopes of peace. During the last two decades of militancy, many flare-ups would have pushed the two nuclear-armed neighbours, India and Pakistan, towards a full-fledged war on Kashmir. Who can miss the nightmare of Kargil in 1999 or for that matter Operation Parakram in 2001, the two most obvious and imminent nuclear flashpoints? Every de-escalation infused fresh hopes within J&K: maybe India and Pakistan this time around would be able to overcome their entrenched positions and maybe now is the time for a sustainable peace in Kashmir.
In comparison to those grave situations, now when a “convict” involved in the parliament attack case was sent to gallows— and many may believe that too after following a due process of law — why have people in Kashmir lost all the hopes of a peaceful co-existence? Whether Afzal Guru got a fair trial, after his secret military style execution, is now merely an academic debate. Whether to invoke the most flawed theory of satisfying the so-called “collective conscience of the society” to justify a capital punishment was right will remain a contentious issue for a long time to come. Mani Shankar Aiyar has rightly described the “collective conscience of the nation” as the “rarest of rare judgments”. There seems to be some merit in the argument that no matter what the strength of evidence against Afzal Guru was, the separatist constituency in Kashmir would invariably had brought into focus the maxim of “your terrorist is my hero”. Of course, Afzal’s execution has offered separatists a readymade opportunity to exploit the sentiments, they were bound to do so in any case whether he got a fair trial or not.
Moreover, in a situation where many conscientious Indians seriously question whether Afzal was a terrorist or a victim of horrible circumstances, it provides further credence to the separatists’ point of view that Afzal’s execution is a “judicial murder”. The court declared Afzal to be a “menace” and ordered his extinction, but the fact that ironically his executioners discovered the “condemned” person to be a “pious soul” who kissed the rope “smilingly” has evoked a deep sympathy even within the circles that in the beginning suspected Afzal to be a surrendered militant and agent of the security forces. Precisely for this reason only, the separatist amalgam was casual in arranging a spirited defence for Afzal Guru at the trial stage, which ultimately proved to be a fatal oversight.
However, it’s not merely the trial alone but the macabre manner in which he was sent to gallows that has elevated Afzal’s status to that of Bhagat Singh before the eyes of almost every Kashmiri, irrespective of his/her political affiliations. See how barely within minutes of Afzal’s execution, Omar Abdullah publically tried to distance himself from the decision making process of the hanging. Now, an MLA has announced that he would move a resolution in the assembly to demand Afzal’s mortal remains from Tihar. In the rest of India, to draw even a cursory comparison of Afzal with Bhagat Singh may simply sound outrageous. The hapless Kashmiri need not be condemned for hurting the sentiments of the millions. The haughty rulers are to be asked why Afzal was hanged in such a clumsy and arrogant manner that drawing parallels with much respected historical figures becomes unavoidable. On social networking sites, an image of an old edition of The Tribune dated 25/03/1931, has been uploaded. The banner headline reads: ‘Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev executed’. The other headlines scream: ‘No last interview with relatives’ and ‘Dead bodies secretly disposed of’. The British were an imperialistic power ruling India against the will of its people. In order to crush the rebellion, it was forced to execute the three revolutionaries in the most secretive manner. What forced the rulers of a democracy today to follow the footsteps of their former colonial masters?
Afzal’s execution has not only revived the separatist sentiment, actually it has also widened the gulf between New Delhi and Kashmir. The epitaphs of several false dialogues tell the story that while dealing with Kashmir, the rulers feel comfortable with military means alone. The ever growing chasm seems to be unbridgeable; hopelessness is symbolic to the ever-increasing psychological barriers.